Updated at 1:09 p.m.
In his first full day since leaving prison, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday said he and his family have been on a “long, unhappy journey,” and he repeatedly praised President Donald Trump for cutting short his 14-year sentence.
Blagojevich spoke for nearly 20 minutes outside his home on Chicago’s Northwest Side, appearing with his wife, Patti, and their two daughters. The family faced a crowd of reporters and supporters gathered in bright sunshine at their Ravenwood Manor home.
“We want to express our most profound, everlasting gratitude to President Trump,” Blagojevich gushed. “How do you properly thank someone who’s given you back the freedom that was stolen from you?”
“I’m a Trumpocrat,” Blagojevich said. “If I had the ability to vote, I would vote for him.”
The 63-year-old Blagojevich, whose familiar thick head of hair turned silver behind bars because inmates are not allowed to use hair dyes, appeared in a blue sweater with light blue shirt and dark slacks. He continually dabbed a handkerchief on a cut on his chin.
Blagojevich Released: Read the latest news and catch up on the backstory here.
“Sorry about the blood,” he quipped, explaining that it had been a long time since he shaved with a normal razor.
Blagojevich spent nearly eight years in prison, and the time appears to have taken a physical toll on him. Beyond the silver hair, his face seems to have a weathered look, with wrinkles and crow’s feet around his eyes.
He did time for crimes that included seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, lying to federal investigators and trying to shake down a children’s hospital.
He said Wednesday that his passage of time in a Colorado prison could be measured by how his daughters have grown. He noted that the oldest, Amy, 23, was a sophomore in high school when he reported to prison. Now she’s graduated from college and recently earned a master’s degree, he said.
His younger daughter, Annie, was 8 when he went to prison. Now she’s 16 and has a driver’s license, Blagojevich joked.
“It’s been a long, unhappy journey. They’ve been hard years for our children. They’ve been hard years for Patti and for me,” the ex-governor said.
Trump commuted Blagojevich’s prison time Tuesday morning, calling the sentence “ridiculous.” Blagojevich told reporters Tuesday he heard about his commutation when other inmates told him they saw it on the news, adding that he ”had no inkling it was coming.’’
After leaving prison, Blagojevich flew from Denver to O’Hare International Airport, arriving in Chicago early Wednesday. He smiled, shook hands, posed for photos and even signed a baseball before getting into a waiting SUV for the drive to his home in the early morning hours.
In remarks to TV stations at the Denver airport and at O’Hare, Blagojevich was unrepentant and vowed to work for judicial and criminal justice reform.
“I didn’t do the things they said I did, and they lied on me,” Blagojevich told WGN-TV.
The former governor told ABC-TV that his future plans are to “turn evil into good.”
“I’m going to fight against the corrupt criminal justice system that all too often persecutes and prosecutes people who did nothing wrong, who over-sentences people, show no mercy, and who are in positions who have no accountability,” Blagojevich said.
The team of federal prosecutors who represented the government in Blagojevich’s trial issued a statement Tuesday saying an appellate court and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Blagojevich’s conviction and sentence. The statement said he “remains a felon, convicted of multiple serious acts of corruption as governor.”
When Blagojevich arrived at his Chicago home he made his way through a crowd of journalists and supporters to his front door. He stopped briefly on the porch and said he was happy to be home with his wife, Patti, and their children before disappearing into the house.
A handmade banner reading, “Thanks Mr. President” and covered in messages and signatures from people in the neighborhood hung from the porch railing.
Although Blagojevich continues to maintain his innocence, calling himself a “political prisoner” Wednesday, that’s not the way many Republicans and Democrats in Illinois see it. Leaders from both parties made statements or tweets Tuesday blasting Trump’s commutation of Blagojevich’s sentence.
“He was a person who didn’t care about the state of Illinois. He cared about his own ambition,” said Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin.